Every time a student asks me about a particular college or university, one of the first things that I think about or research is the college or university’s graduation rates. And I’m usually really quick to say, “nope, don’t go there. Only 13% of their students graduate…ever” or “yeah, that’s a good one. More than 80% of their students graduate in four years.”

Sometimes students look at me as though I have insulted them; as if I am saying they would not comprise that 13%. Maybe. As you know from what I have said before, “maybe” isn’t good enough for me especially when talking about college as an investment. Would you invest $200,000 of your money and someone else’s money, and countless hours to maybe get a return on your investment? I hope not. There are specific things that you can do in middle and high school to remove the “maybe” from that scenario and you can of course contact me and I will tell you more.

But I am also thinking about the students who would definitely fall into that 13% and I still think it’s a problem.

I look at that data to make a guess as to how much one would pay. Are we looking at four years of $40K or possibly six? That’s a major difference when you are calculating college costs.

But the other reason that I look at that data first–and this is the most important–is: if your student is attending a university–regardless of how high-achieving your student is, and perhaps especially for a student who is high-achieving–that only graduates a very small fraction of their students, most of their resources are going to the remediation of those students, not to matriculate high achievers.

As an example, CSU East Bay has said that they have to remediate about 60% of their freshmen. This means that they are offering a lot of English and Math courses to catch these students up before they are ready to actually take the college courses required for their majors. That takes extra time for them. But it is extra time for everyone. If your student found success in AP Calculus in high school and are ready for college-level Calculus as a freshman, it is less likely they will find that class available as often as those classes the majority of the school population needs.

You may be wondering about those universities that enroll more high-achieving students and still have mediocre graduation rates. Notice that these are tuition-dependent universities: either public universities or really small liberal arts colleges without endowments. The general rule of thumb in these scenarios is that if the university can’t afford to give a ton of scholarships or meet the majority of the financial need for its students, they probably are not hiring or paying professors well either. This means that those classes aren’t available because there isn’t anyone to teach it. Or the university hires adjunct professors, who they don’t pay well, but load them with the intro classes, and maybe renew their contracts for the next year. Remember what I said about “maybe.” How likely are you to attend a university that maybe has a professor ready to go for those classes that your student absolutely needs to graduate?

This is why I advocate, as others do, for students to attend as selective a school as possible and I limit the number of public universities students should apply to. Much of the preparation I do with students prior to high school is to get them ready to be marketable to these selective schools. One of the criteria in the ranking of these schools is how many and how often do they graduate students. While I don’t pay attention to much when it comes to rankings, I do really look at that data point.

Contact me if you would like more information.